Campus News

President Eli Capilouto: Examining our progress in 'Bringing Together Many People; One Community'

Photo of Students Sitting in Adirondack Chairs on Campus
Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

The following remarks were made by President Eli Capilouto at the February University of Kentucky Board of Trustees Academic and Student Affairs Committee Meeting.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 20, 2023) — At each meeting, we focus on one of our strategic plan principles.

That plan, as our north star, guides us as we work to advance this state in everything that we do. Our goal is to ensure that Kentucky tomorrow is healthier, wealthier and wiser than it is today.

We are examining together our progress in “Bringing Together Many People; One Community.”

How and why do creating and sustaining a sense of community — on our campus and throughout our state — help us accomplish our goals? Why does a multi-faceted understanding of our humanity matter?

We have at our disposal tools and technology that have dramatically increased knowledge and exponentially accelerated the potential to heal.

We have more capacity — at the touch of a button or through virtual realities — to expand our reach and grow our economies.

We exist to educate students, so they are poised to succeed.

But to be successful, they must navigate an uncertain, complex and competitive world — one with challenges but also so much opportunity and diversity.

It is a world with so much opportunity for bright, young and committed people, like the students we educate, whose backgrounds and home communities reflect many similarities and dissimilarities in perspective, academic preparation, health conditions, ethnicities, faith and identity you will find in students from all 120 counties, 50 states and 100 countries.

Our campus — this community — reflects these realities, too.

Tukea Talbert reported to our health care committee yesterday that there is an 11-year gap in life expectancy across Fayette County attributed to Social Determinants of Health — the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age and the forces and systems that shape daily life.

Sometimes those forces and systems are not even, because of your economic standing, race, ethnicity and education systems.

A double-digit difference in life expectancy across the span of one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Is this equitable? Is it fair? What is our responsibility?

We are using these social determinants of health, these rigorous data, to guide our decisions around how we think about improving access to primary and ambulatory care in the region.

Kentucky cannot reach its potential if the playing field is not level and if its people do not have access to the best of care and means to prevent disease.

We can make a difference. Creating community matters.

According to figures from our Markey Cancer Center, Kentucky rates for colon, melanoma and lung cancers are between 27% and 71% higher than the national average. Mortality rates for lung cancer here are 80% higher than the national average. Social Determinants of Health again account these disparities. These, too, vary by zip code.

The disease and its devastating impacts are particularly prevalent in Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region. Again, to make a difference, numerous factors are at play — environment and behavior, education and a lack of preventive screening and access to primary and specialty care.

Is this equitable? Is it fair? No — but we can bring equity to these conditions.

Just last week, our Markey team — led by Director Mark Evers, M.D., presented to National Cancer Institute reviewers about the work we are doing in the Commonwealth: thousands of educational sessions and health fairs, screening referrals and colonoscopies, follow-up appointments and advanced treatment.

The result: 1,100 fewer deaths from colorectal cancer between 2018 and 2022. This work is invisible and often thankless, but it saves lives.

That is just one example of the intentional interventions, novel treatments and boots-on-the-ground approaches we are taking to attack this insidious disease wherever it impacts our people and our state.

In striving for equity, we are not handing out good health. We simply want to work with everyone in our state to ensure that everyone has the same shot, a fair shot, at good health.

Our Commonwealth cannot make progress if one region or one zip code is left behind.

We can make a difference. Creating community matters.

This spring, for the first time, over 31,000 students were enrolled at the University of Kentucky.

Yet, even with a continued increase in enrollment, spring retention for first-year students — the percentage who returned this spring after fall classes — is at a record 95% to start the semester, up nearly 1.5 percentage points over spring 2022.

Indeed, retention is up among most cohorts of students — students of color, first-generation students, students who live on or off campus, and students who come to UK from Kentucky or beyond, whose social determinants of education differ. We are bigger and more diverse than ever before in our history.

Our faculty don’t hand out grades. They teach and have expectations. Our students earn them.

But through the ingenuity and commitment of faculty, the intervention by Student Success staff, through thousands and thousands of advising appointments, and support for special needs that students have, innumerable micro-interventions have produced a macro-effect to make doing your best possible. That’s equity.

We can make a difference. Creating community matters.

Indeed, numerous articles point to the fact that when companies work to prioritize diversity, to create equitable opportunities and access … it creates greater potential for growth and prosperity.

This commitment to acknowledge and leverage diversity, without question, improves the bottom line.

Within such companies, there is understanding and appreciation for employees who know how to communicate and compromise, think critically and analytically, work in teams across perspectives and backgrounds — all of it is essential to their success. All of it is essential to ours, too, if we do not let our arrogance, misunderstanding and fear get in the way of open inquiry and debate.

Our Office of LGBTQ+ Resources is named for Jim Dinkle and his partner Carlos Mas Rivera.

However, you may not know Jim’s story.

Unfortunately, throughout his time at UK in the 1980s, he felt he had to hide his sexual identity. He was an active, engaged student. And he even served as president of the UK Student Government Association. His successor ... was Trustee Brockman.

After graduation, he quickly moved away to places where he felt he could be his authentic self.

He forged an incredibly successful career in business and economic development — creating hundreds of jobs across the U.S.

Today, he is a proud alum of this place, and he visits often.

But I have often wondered, “would Kentucky have been healthier, wealthier and wiser had Jim Dinkle stayed? If the many more like him had stayed?”

Our Commonwealth, today, is more diverse than ever before. So, too, is our campus.

That is a blessing — more points of view and perspectives; more talent and interests, representing different races, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic backgroundsSometimes, it can make it more challenging in building a home where everyone belongs.

All of it provides more opportunities for our students to understand and experience the world they will enter.

You already have heard — and will continue to learn more today — about initiatives across our campus related to our efforts to build one community with so many diverse people.

From health to hiring … we are catalyzing efforts to build more welcoming spaces and places across our campus … better connecting our people and resources for support … and ensuring that we are listening to our students, faculty and staff, so that when they go home, they can advance their communities, Commonwealth and country.

We are also making it easier for diverse suppliers and businesses to work with our institution … and thinking about how we engage respectfully and responsibly with each other in ways that honor open inquiry and speech, while creating environments where everyone can belong and thrive.

Through these efforts, hundreds of people across our campus have been working thoughtfully and with purpose on how we build a more welcoming community — one community.

We can make a difference. Creating community matters and it is hard work.

Our students, as usual, will lead us on this path. They already are doing so. The student creed they created several years ago makes this clear:

As a Wildcat,

  • I promise to strive for academic excellence and freedom by promoting an environment of creativity and discovery.
  • I promise to pursue all endeavors with integrity and compete with honesty.
  • I promise to embrace diversity and inclusion and to respect the dignity and humanity of others.
  • I promise to contribute to my university and community through leadership and service.
  • I promise to fulfill my commitments and remain accountable to others.

We believe in the University of Kentucky and will forever honor our alma mater.

We can make a difference. Creating community matters.

Thank you.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.